On a recent episode of Fatman on Batman, Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin discussed how 2019 marked the 20-year anniversary of the Batman Beyond animated series. Naturally, the conversation shifted to the possibility of a live-action film and Smith remarked how it could make a billion dollars at the box office if it brought back Michael Keaton as the older Bruce Wayne. Needless to say, we fully back Smith’s idea. Not only would it be the ultimate fan service, but it would also be a stupendous and innovative move.
For those unfamiliar with the animated series, Batman Beyond (repackaged as Batman of the Future in South Africa) takes place in Neo-Gotham in 2039. Wayne has been retired from his vigilante activities for two decades, but he’s dragged back into the world of crime-fighting as he helps Terry McGinnis, who becomes the new Batman. Since it’s set in the future, the costume and gadgets are obviously more hi-tech and outlandish, and there are new (and familiar) foes for the Dark Knight to battle. The show aired for three seasons, received its own animated film in the form of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and continues in comic book format to this day.
Interestingly enough, a live-action film nearly happened at the turn of the century. Speaking to Smith on Fatman on Batman, one of the show’s creators Paul Dini explained what happened to the original plans. “It was fine…it wasn’t like [Return of the Joker]. It was set in Gotham future, but it didn’t quite have the fantastic, futuristic edge. It was sort of like an amalgam: There was a little bit of Dark Knight, there was a little bit of contemporary comics, and there was Terry and the suit and everything. It was old Bruce Wayne. So, they were in it, but it was just a little bit…I dunno, for whatever reason, this [Return of the Joker] was a more successful film. The first draft went in and needed some work, and then basically everybody decided it was better…rather than spend a lot of time on this, and let’s just table it.”
Of course, a vocal part of the DC fanbase would still love to see a live-action adaptation of Batman Beyond. All thing considered, it might’ve been too ambitious to pull off in 2001, but it’s doable nowadays. In fact, if you think about it, Denis Villeneuve imagined what you’d think Neo-Gotham would look like in Blade Runner 2049, so the template and technology is certainly there for a film of this nature.
The thing is, it remains a risky project for DC and Warner Bros. to this day. The average moviegoer knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but would they embrace a new person as the Dark Knight? Remember, a studio isn’t just making a movie for the core fanbase; it needs to consider the general audience as well.
Sony Pictures had a similar dilemma with Miles Morales. How do you explain to someone who isn’t familiar with the comics that there’s more than one Spider-Man? Comic book canon can become convoluted, but Sony did it in the simplest and best way possible: in the form of the smash-hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Undoubtedly, Warner Bros. took note of this movie and has its own desire to emulate the critical and financial success with its own characters. Hence the reason a project like Batman Beyond would be the perfect vehicle to do so. Heck, considering that even a live-action film would be mostly CGI, why doesn’t Warner Bros. and DC just fully commit to animation in the first place?
Think about it. You could have an all-new cast voicing the film (including Keaton as Wayne), or even bring back the stars from the animated series. Whichever way you look at it, it would be a cheaper exercise than a live-action affair and test the waters for Neo-Gotham in future adaptations.
One thing’s for certain, though: Warner Bros. and DC won’t ignore Batman Beyond for too long. It’s likely that it’ll be revisited in some shape or form in the near future. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait until 2039 for it.